he number of homeless people in Los Angeles County jumped 12 percent in the past two years, to more than 44,000, amid a sluggish economic recovery that has left the poorest residents of the second-largest U.S. metropolitan area falling farther behind, a study released on Monday found. Most of those counted weren’t staying in homeless shelters. The study also found that the number of tents, makeshift encampments and vehicles with people living in them jumped by 85 percent, to about 9,500. “California was one of the hardest-hit states in the country during the economic recession, suffering high unemployment and high job losses,” the housing authority said in a news release. “There is a lag in rebound, and the working poor and low-income individuals have been hit particularly hard, with the trifecta of unemployment, stagnant wages and a lack of affordable housing.”
These are important days, not only for Baltimore, but for the entire country. People had to resort to bricks and fire in order to be heard, but finally the authorities (and the world) can no longer ignore the voices of the youth, the mothers, the fathers of Sandtown, who have much to talk about. They talk about the constant abuse of the police force and the everyday racism that consigns black people to a sub-human status. They talk about how the city authorities have completely divested from these neighborhoods, privatizing the little social housing that was left, closing down the recreation centers and cutting down water provisions to those households that cannot afford to pay the bills, while at the same time spending millions of dollars in TIFs and other subsidies to the big downtown developers. They also talk about jobs, or more precisely the lack thereof, and the absence of perspectives for most of the black youth of Baltimore (and so many other cities in the United States). Because racism is the mask exploitation hides under. It constitutes yet another instrument to oppress marginalized communities and undermine social solidarity.
YOUNG: I think it was 8,000 kids that really applied. I want to make sure that all 8,000 of those kids get jobs. JANIS: We spoke to the Mayor’s office, who told us that some of the 3,000 applicants may have found work elsewhere, and that the Mayor is also looking for private funding. But earlier this week several groups say the city government itself, not the private sector, should be funding jobs. Among them, former city council president and mayoral candidate Lawrence Bell, who called for more direct government funding for neighborhoods like Gilmor Homes, where Gray was arrested before he died. LAWRENCE BELL, FMR. CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Black men are no different from any other men. Given an opportunity, given an alternative, a good alternative, a living wage, they will choose that over the illegal drug market where they’re risking life and limb.
Suddenly, the mass media is writing about or televising the conditions in West Baltimore. Conditions that Washington Postcolumnist, Eugene Robinson, summarized as decades long “suffocating poverty, dysfunction and despair.” Suddenly, reporters and camera teams are discovering Baltimore’s inner city—crumbling or abandoned housing; mass unemployment; too many merchants gouging the locals (the poor pay more); too many drug dealers; schools, roads and sidewalks in serious disrepair; debris everywhere; lack of municipal services (which are provided to the wealthier areas of the city); and, as always, grinding poverty and its many vicious circle consequences.
Baltimore, not at all uniquely, has experienced a century of public policy designed, consciously so, to segregate and impoverish its black population. A legacy of these policies is the rioting we have seen in Baltimore. Whether after the 1967 wave of riots that led to the Kerner Commission report, after the 1992 Los Angeles riot that followed the acquittal of police officers who beat Rodney King, or after the recent wave of confrontations and vandalism following police killings of black men, community leaders typically say, properly, that violence isn’t the answer and that after peace is restored, we can deal with the underlying problems. We never do so. Certainly, African American citizens of Baltimore were provoked by aggressive, hostile, even murderous policing, but Spiro Agnew had it right. Without suburban integration, something barely on today’s public policy agenda, ghetto conditions will persist, giving rise to aggressive policing and the riots that inevitably ensue.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. The Baltimore Uprising, as it’s been dubbed on Twitter, is not just the community’s response to Freddie Gray’s murder at the hands of Baltimore police. While it may have started out that way, the anger that has exploded across Maryland’s largest city is a response to three systemic issues – staggering levels of unacknowledged poverty and persistent unemployment, the occupying military force known as the Baltimore Police Department, and the complacent and corrupt Baltimore city government. While it’s well-known that the big banks were terrorizing poor communities everywhere with subprime loans in the run-up to the financial crisis, their behavior is no more apparent than in Baltimore. Between 2005 and 2008, Wells Fargo preyed on Baltimore’s black community by targeting black churches, hoping that the ministers would convince congregations to take out subprime loans with Wells Fargo. More than half of the Baltimore properties in foreclosure with a Wells Fargo loan from 2005 to 2008 are currently vacant.
For more than one in four renters in the US, housing and utility costs take up at least half of their family’s income, according to a new analysis of Census data. That number is up 26 percent since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007. Rising rents and stagnant wages are pushing more Americans into rental agreements, according to ananalysis by Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing advocate. More than 36 percent of Americans rent housing as compared to 31 percent before the recession began. The situation is nearly as dire across the nation. In Ohio, Alabama, Maine, Tennessee, Montana, and South Carolina, about 25 percent of renters dedicate half their income to rent and utilities. In fact, at least 20 percent of renters in every state, excepting Alaska, South Dakota, and Wyoming, face similar situations, according to the nonprofit’s analysis of 2013 Census figures.
“Trade can indeed spur economic growth and poverty reduction, but only if the rules actually benefit those at the lower end of the development ladder,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Although it is being negotiated in secret, what we currently know about the TPP lines up the trade deal to do exactly the opposite.” In a letter to Congress, Oxfam joined a number of faith and development organizations, including ActionAid USA, Health Alliance International, American Jewish World Service, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), , and NETWORK – a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby to urge for a change in course away from the current design of TPP and the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill in order for US trade policy to truly serve development outcomes and reduce global poverty.
A Food & Water Watch research brief released today finds that Baltimore’s current water shutoff campaign is indicative of bigger issues for the city: one-third of the city’s residents cannot afford water and sewer service. Because of this lack of affordability, ever-increasing water rates, and inaccessible, insufficient assistance to low-income residents, the city risks violating the human right to water by shutting off water service to households unable to pay these rates. Food & Water Watch’s analysis highlights a startling statistic: while the United Nations has established that affordable water and sanitation service should be no more than 3 percent of household income, one-third of Baltimore households earned less than $25,000 per year, yet paid an average of $804 per year on water and sewer services as of April 2015. That means that one-third of the city’s residents, or 80,000 households, simply cannot afford their water rates.
Anger boiled over in Baltimore as the funeral of Freddie Gray seems to have put the city over the breaking point, as we reported on Saturday the violence and property damage began at the end of Sunday’s protests at Camden Yards where protesters had conflicts with baseball fans who had been drinking. At the request of Gray’s family, things calmed down after that, but after the funeral, many lost control. These riots were not planned by protest leaders but seem to have happened spontaneously. The reality is this has been building from generations of gross neglect in very poor communities. Fifty years ago Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that a “riot is the voice of the unheard.” These riots have been building from the era of Dr. King. David Simon, the writer of the HBO series The Wire, got it right when he wrote on his blog: Yes, there is a lot to be argued, debated, addressed. And this moment, as inevitable as it has sometimes seemed, can still, in the end, prove transformational, if not redemptive for our city. Changes are necessary and voices need to be heard. All of that is true and all of that is still possible, despite what is now loose in the streets.
The U.S. has one of the highest relative child poverty rates in the developed world. As UNICEF reports, “[Children's] material well-being is highest in the Netherlands and in the four Nordic countries and lowest in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and the United States.” Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty. Nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children, and they averaged about$5 a day for their meals before the 2014 farm bill cut $8.6 billion (over the next ten years) from the food stamp program. In 2007 about 12 of every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today it’s 20 of every 100. he U.S. ranks near the bottom of the developed world in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education. Early education should be a primary goal for the future, as numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps allchildren to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But we’re going in the opposite direction.Head Start was recently hit with the worst cutbacks in its history.
America’s wealth grew by 60 percent in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60 percent. Financier and CEO Peter Schiff said, “People don’t go hungry in a capitalist economy.” The 16 million kids on food stamps know what it’s like to go hungry. Perhaps, some in Congress would say, those children should be working. “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” insisted Georgia Representative Jack Kingston, even for schoolkids, who should be required to “sweep the floor of the cafeteria” (as they actually do at a charter school in Texas). The callousness of U.S. political and business leaders is disturbing, shocking.
Kansas City, MO – In the shadows of Kansas City, shop carts rattle past an urban farm as ragged figures scurry away from the burnt shell of an apartment building. “You get a strut on this block,” said Jake, an intern on the farm who spent almost a year living homeless under a bridge. We watched the motley crowd with their carts full of metal. “You see? Head down and shoulders up.” The farm sprouted in a neighborhood forgotten by the twinkling skyline to the west, where old buildings are often burnt to expose the copper wiring within the walls. The wiring is then stripped by “scrappers” and sold to the local scrapyard for five cents per pound. With all of the nearby high schools discredited as educational institutions, scrapping metal is often the most viable means of income.
Seattle, WA – The Beacon Food Forest is giving away dozens of strawberry plants. For free. It’s a drizzly, chilly, gray Saturday, typical of January in Seattle. In just a few hours, the Seahawks will host the Packers for the NFC Championship. While the rest of the city slugs its first tailgate beer of what will become an epic afternoon of football, 60 or so unpaid farmhands are hard at work. They wheelbarrow wood chips, prune pear trees, and remove invasive species from the hillside urban garden, preparing it for spring. Some are uprooting the profusion of propagating strawberry plants that are taking over pathways and smothering other ground-cover herbage (hence the gratis strawberry plants).